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Senior Correspondent

I found myself on the forest floor, left by a small child who had befriended me. She’d taken me from the cold river and I traveled in the trunk of the car with the lawn chairs, wet swimsuits and suitcases. I was carried away in the small hands of this little one who wanted to take the forest home with her. I became one of her treasures and enjoyed the company of pine cones and wilted flowers. Even though we were all held captive in her possession, I was her treasure. I made acquaintance with the pine cones and we agreed it was a delight to be so welcome to her sight. She was young enough that she probably hadn't seen much of those like us. She held us in the warmth of her hands and laid us out in a row for inspection.
We came to love her and quietly laughed as she counted and recounted, adding to our numbers. The flowers died and her mother said they would have to be thrown away. We, however, could come along. We looked forward to the journey — content that we'd be loved and cared for. This small person valued us so highly. We were in and out of trunks all summer, soaked in buckets of water and laid in the sun to dry. But we always returned to her small hands. Eventually the pine cones could no longer withstand the travel and began to fall to pieces. As my friends were scattered in places remembered, and some forgotten, I wondered about my fate. 
Always, she held me close and turned me over and over in her hands. She loved looking at my gray and white streaks. She created stories about the trails of color she was seeing in me. When the summer was over I was assigned a place of honor on the window sill in her bedroom. Every day she'd stop to admire me and turn me over. Years went by. Sometimes I would accompany her on voyages to the river. There were many like me, but she always knew where I was and I returned home to sit on her window sill until she traveled again. 

One year she took me to the river, and she had grown and changed so much that I was worried for her. She packed me in a suitcase in a casual manner, with no admiration and not at all gentle. These were turbulent times for her, and she seemed so confused. I found myself wishing she'd stop long enough to hold me and let my colors and resiliency speak to her, but she was preoccupied. Before we left I noticed she had changed many things in her room. Much of what she owned had disappeared. She was in some deep turmoil. 

At the river she placed me near the water. I could see and hear it, but I couldn’t touch it. I wondered why. She cupped water in her hands to drink. She walked her feet in the edges of the water and skipped a couple of stones. There were tears in her eyes and she picked me up once again, turning me over and over in her palm. I could sense her pain in her touch. How I longed to know its source. But I could only hope for her pain to find healing in her own time. She returned me to the side of the river and walked away. For a long time I thought she'd come back. But the seasons went by and I realized she was gone. 

I thought I would be lonely. I did miss her and would catch myself dreaming about my days on the window sill and the long dark hours in the trunk of the car. But mostly I was glad to hear the river, smell the air and sense the seasons as they changed around me. On occasion there were small children that visited the river. They sometimes brought curiosity that was entertaining to me. There were small children who came to see the river and play in its cold frolics. But no one came to hold me, no one turned me over or noticed my trails of gray and white streaks. As the years went by I had almost given up hope of ever seeing her again.

I thought she must be very far away and had forgotten all about me. I was wishing her pain had been forgotten and she had changed to her own liking. Then one day she came back. I first heard her footsteps, then her voice. She stood very close to me. She was looking at all the stones. She seemed very content and was very beautiful. She reached down and turned me over as if trying to make up her mind. She soon realized I was the one she was looking for. She spoke to the one she was with, but I noticed she never told him about me. Her touch was gentle and kind. I was overjoyed to see her. But she went away and left me by the river. I wondered why. 

She returned several times in the next few years and every time she noticed me. Always she and I met in joyful silence. Her friend was a unique comrade. I could see she loved him and hoped they were always kind to one another. The pain I had once known in her hands was never there, and for this I was grateful. Time went by and I missed her again. But I always believed she'd return. She did return and in a most unusual way.

A small child reached down to me one day and picked me up. She looked at me carefully and ran off to her mother. “Mommy, look at this pretty stone. Can I take it home with me? I could put it on my window sill and keep it forever.’'

I knew that no matter how long it took I would always be found, loved and turned over. My gray and white streaks were inspirational for stories that delighted this little one as much as the one I had known so many years ago. 

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